Robotic Da Vinci Offers Surgeons More Control, Patients Less Recovery Time

By Briana Vannozzi

Tiny robotic hands controlled by a surgeon are mimicking precise sutures on human tissue.

This is Da Vinci: the multi-tasking, multi-armed, multi-million dollar surgical robot.

“They have motion that is far greater than the human hand or fingers, so it allows us that dexterity to get into narrow spaces and do maneuvers minimally invasively that were not possible before,” said Dr. Tanuja Damani, Chief of Robotic Surgery for St. Joseph’s Health System.

Robotic surgery has had its kinks over the years. Since Da Vinci premiered 15-years ago, there have been several fall outs over its success compared to traditional non-invasive, or laparoscopic, procedures. However, doctors are finding that the system is improving patients’ lives, and they’re encouraging fellow practitioners to get trained.

“Instead of making a 12 to 16 inch incision that is traditionally made for open surgery, we’re using multiple quarter inch, or smaller, incisions. So, clearly, there’s much less pain after surgery. There is much quicker recovery for patients with a shorter hospitalization and return to baseline lives much quicker,” Damani said.

This entire system translates to a surgeons’ hand, one tiny maneuver with this arm, and it could mean a 360 degree rotation, which can prove difficult when initially learning.

It was traditionally used for hysterectomies, hernia repairs, prostate and cancer removal. Damani says now the state-of-the-art technology is being used “for GI or gastro intestinal diseases and cancers. We’re using it for colon and rectal cancers. We’re using it for cardio and thoracic procedures, including both valves, and lung cancers.”

Damani controls the robot through the computer screen. It’s a lot like being part of a 3D video game.

“It gives us a 10-times magnification compared to the naked eye, and gives us a three-dimensional view which is high definition,” Damani said.

She says they’ve seen more patients putting off surgeries, because they’re unable or worried about taking time off from work. That often results in greater complications, but this surgery negates that.

“I waited about a year, year and a half, and then it just got ridiculous,” Lidyana Calle-Vega said.

Calle-Vega says she was convinced to have the surgery done after being told she’d be back at work within a week.

“I was in the operating room at 7 a.m., I was out of the operating room by 11:30. I walking out of the hospital at 3. At 7 p.m. that night I was outside playing with my dogs,” Calle-Vega said.

Surgeons say, as with any procedure, the prognosis depends on the patient and condition. They’re hoping the more its used, the more comfortable people will be with the high-tech helper.